As the Celtics visit Toronto Tuesday night, the question is simple. Who will be celebrating after Game of Zones posts its next “Feast of the East” episode?
Tonight will provide clues. Ultimately, though — as Celtics fans know better than most — that’s a question that won’t be answered until early June.
In their most recent matchup, the Celtics just eked by the Raptors when DeMar DeRozan missed a shot at the buzzer (see above). When you account for a +3 home advantage either way, Boston’s 95-94 win at home makes perfect math-sense for a 4.5-5 point spread tonight.
(Jump to: NetBetSport for tonight’s bottom line.)
Jurassic Park and the chaotician
You wouldn’t know it from the way much of the NBA press has virtually ignored the Raptors. But Analytics Guy, Teddy Covers, and even (mad respect) Vegas Sharp Guy all love Toronto. Since 2015, the Raptors have consistently ranked several spots higher than their record, for example, at the Covers.com power rankings.
As the table nearby suggests, there’s much to support this from the sheer numbers-crunchers. Note: the table is simply a past-performance analysis projected forward over the remaining NBA schedule. It doesn’t account for recent injuries, roster moves, and similar factors. For a larger view, right-click the table.
So, for example, any big moves before the trade deadline, or major injuries, aren’t accounted for.
Furthermore, the Raptors have added youth and depth to the team that struggled in playoff-runs past. (Much like the Celtics, but without the high-profile starters to draw headlines like The 3-point Amigos.)
In short, the Raptors probably are the best of the east — as of February. Third in the NBA in points in the paint, long and deep up front, they’re exactly the kind of team that gives the Celtics trouble. Whatever happens tonight, though, they’ll only be able to vanquish their demons in May.
On the other hand, the Celtics themselves remain one of the top cover teams in basketball. They’re 33-19-2 against the spread for the season. And as a 3-point-or-more underdog, a daunting 8-0. (Triple-checked that one.) As a 3-to-6.50-point favorite, the Raptors are 8-9.
Marcus Smart ‘s absence will hurt in this one, despite the play of Terry Rozier. Celtic guards will still be pressed into longer minutes. And the way Smart tends to wear down DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry — well, the Celtics will miss this especially.
But the bigger impact will be on the total. Smart’s absence is a minus for the Celtic defense, and (sad to say but true) a plus for the offense.
Kyrie Irving ‘s return will help the total too. The Celtics are 7 points better per possession when he’s on the floor.
Bottom line: Over, Raptors
Bottom line? We like the over (203.5., but rising on Kyrie’s return).
The trend numbers say, take the Celtics and the points, but we disagree. This is a revenge-match, no-one’s-paying attention-to-us game for Toronto. Lay the points, take the Raptors.
Celtics fantasy trends
The Celtics bench has struggled to score, and as Terry Rozier returns to that role, his effectiveness per minute probably will as well. Don’t count on him to replicate his production as a starter. But with Larkin and Smart still out, his minutes definitely won’t.
Kyrie Irving is coming back from a 4-game absence. And while the Raptors (like most of the NBA) “can only hope to contain him,” they’ve done so better than most. Irving averages 19.1 points a game against Toronto (22.1 against the rest of the league). He’ll be on a minutes restriction, and playing a little hurt for the next few games. Shaking off some rust, too. Don’t expect big numbers.
Last time they met. Al “Tom Brady” Horford scored 21 and Brown 18 in Boston’s 95-94 win. Terry Rozier (28 minutes) proved troublesome to the Raptors off the bench with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists — in a game Marcus Smart also missed.